The Archivist’s Nook: Laboring for Justice, Monsignor George Higgins, Cesar Chavez, and the Unionization of California Agriculture

Monsignor George Higgins was a member of the U.S. Catholic clergy, director of the Social Action Department of the forerunner of today’s U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, attendee to the Vatican II Council, and an authority on labor relations. Cesar Chavez was a farm worker, a lay member of the Church, and a union leader who was on the ground floor of a revolution in farm labor organization.

Together, these two Catholics made for a potent combination that helped bring a degree of labor justice to agricultural workers in California and other parts of the United States. Chavez and his United Farm Workers union sought higher pay and better working conditions for domestic agricultural laborers, using strikes and boycotts to induce growers to come to the bargaining table. Higgins and the Bishop’s Ad Hoc Committee on Farm Labor became a forceful negotiator between the growers and the workers. The combination eventually led to thousands of workers finding representation under the auspices of the United Farm Workers union. Today, people hold the memories of both men dear for their unrelenting crusade to enhance the lives of the workers in the fields.

Cesar Chavez and Monsignor George Higgins pose for a photo in March, 1970. (Photo: Higgins Collection, Archives, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America)

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Monsignor George Gilmary Higgins (1916-2002) developed an interest in labor issues from an early age, carrying this interest with him into seminary in Illinois and graduate work at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Upon finishing his four years of study at Catholic University in 1944, Higgins immediately went to work for the National Catholic Welfare Conference’s Social Action Department (SAD), where he would remain for the next 36 years, serving as the department’s director from 1954 to 1967. He also took over the authorship of the syndicated column The Yardstick from legendary SAD director, Father Raymond McGowan. The column afforded Higgins the opportunity to speak on labor and social problems, among other matters of the day. While Higgins would become involved in numerous social causes during his tenure, he gained his nickname of “The Labor Priest” for one reason: his lifetime support for workers and labor unions. It was this support that would lead Higgins and other clergy to the cause of farm workers of California and a charismatic labor leader in Cesar Chavez.

Cesar Estrada Chavez (1927-1993) was born in Yuma, Arizona, in 1927 to a Mexican-American family. Due to struggles during the Great Depression, the family moved to California to become migrant workers. Chavez labored in the agricultural fields before joining the U.S. Navy in 1944. After returning from World War II, Chavez married Helen Fabela, and they moved to San Jose, California. Chavez continued to work as a farm laborer until he became interested in unionization. Many agricultural businesses relied on migrant workers, mainly Mexican-Americans or Mexican immigrants, to work their fields, and the growers rarely showed any interest in the well-being of their laborers. Chavez became an organizer first for the Community Service Organization, then co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with Dolores Huerta in 1962 to improve conditions for laborers. The Association later evolved into the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC), then the United Farm Workers (UFW), a union that led strikes against numerous vegetable and fruit growers and worked to draw farm laborers into its organization. The work of Chavez caught the attention of many nationally, including Church clergy, due also to Chavez’s strong Catholic faith. This attention led to his meeting with Higgins and other clergy.

Bishop James Rausch, Cesar Chavez, and Monsignor George Higgins pose in front of a United Farm Workers flag, ca, early 1970s.

Since the late 19th century, the U.S. Catholic Church has had a strong connection to labor. The issuance of the encyclical Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII established the Church’s support for organizing labor in 1891, institutional support reiterated through papal teachings throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century. Since then, clergy and laity have pled the cause of the working classes in metropolitan areas down to the smallest farms, standing on picket lines and encouraging legislation to support unions and laborers. The Church, particularly a committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (a forerunner of today’s U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops), would become involved in a high-profile labor dispute in 1970 by seeking to negotiate contracts between large agricultural farms and laborers in California. While the UFWOC had been laboring for five years to conclude such contracts with growers with minor success, the work of the Ad Hoc Committee on Farm Labor of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) in 1970 and after would help the union even more in the years to come. At the heart of this cooperation was Monsignor George Higgins of the Ad Hoc Committee and Cesar Chavez of the UFWOC and UFW. The two men would work tirelessly to achieve economic justice for the field laborers in need of representation.

Chavez holds a farmworkers-related press conference, with Msgr. Higgins to his left, 1970. (Photo: Higgins Collection, Archives, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America)

Eventually, the organizing and publicity campaign of Chavez and the UFW bore fruit, as national support for the farm workers grew. The California Agricultural Labor Relations Act (CALRA) passed the state’s legislature and was signed into law on June 4, 1975 by Governor Jerry Brown. CALRA established the right to collective bargaining for in that state, a first in U.S. history. The law explicitly encourages and protects “the right of agricultural employees to full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, to negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment, and to be free from the interference, restraint, or coercion of employers of labor, or their agents, in the designation of such representatives or in self-organization or in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

A new exhibit in the Mullen Library second floor reading room (from February through May 2024) presents objects, articles, photographs, and letters from the George Higgins collection detailing the story of the Catholic Church and the United Farm Workers (UFW) during the drive to unionize farm workers. Through these objects, a picture of cooperation between organizations seeking to better the lives of thousands forms, showing that social change is possible or, in the words of Chavez: “Si se puede” (“It can be done”). A digital exhibit can be found here.



The Archivist’s Nook: A Century of Educating Educators at CatholicU

The presence of millions of Catholic immigrants in the United States from the late 19th to the early 20thcentury led to the phenomenal growth of Catholic schools. Hostility toward Catholicism in the public schools and a sturdy parish infrastructure created the groundwork for such schools to flourish. In the meantime, a network of Catholic colleges established throughout the country during the same period educated the priests, religious men and women, and laity who would service local Catholic populations in these burgeoning school networks.

Children bused to religious vacation school, Altoona, PA, 1950. National Confraternity of the Christian Doctrine/National Catholic Welfare Conference Records, Special Collections, Archives, The Catholic University of America.

In 1965, U.S. Catholic parish school attendance reached its highest point at 4.5 million students. That same year, The Catholic University of America’s Department of Education became the School of Education, aimed at accommodating the expansion and professionalization of the field. By that time, more than one million students attended over 2,000 secondary Catholic schools. Catholic educators (both lay and religious) staffed urban elementary schools, trade schools, college preparatory schools, colleges, and schools accommodating a range of intellectual abilities. Many were staffed and run by graduates of Catholic University’s Education program. Even as the educational landscape shifted and many schools moved to the suburbs—in 1980 2.2 million students attended 7,800 parish schools—the University’s Department of Education continued training educators for leadership and teaching in Catholic educational institutions.

Rev. Thomas Shields (1862-1921), the first chair of the Catholic University of America’s Department of Education. Image: Painting of Shields by di Valentine, undated. Special Collections, Museum Collection, The Catholic University of America.

The University’s strong Department of Education began with two stellar educators in the early twentieth century: Edward Pace and Thomas Shields. Rev. Edward Pace was among the first faculty selected to teach at the new Catholic University of America in 1888. Concerned about meeting the instructional needs of the various schools of the University, Pace advocated for a Department of Education, which was approved by the University’s Board of Trustees in 1908. Rev. Thomas Shields was hired as an instructor in psychology in 1902. But his attention and research rapidly shifted to the field of education. In 1905, he designed correspondence courses and institutes for teaching sisters staffing the growing Catholic school system across the country. After the trustees approved the establishment of a Department of Education in 1908, Shields set up and chaired the new unit. He founded the Catholic Educational Review in 1910, and began publishing articles and books via the Catholic Education Press, which he also founded. He established and served as Dean of the Catholic Sisters College in 1911, organizing and running summer institutes for women religious at the University. Finally, the Program of Affiliation Shields created in 1912 sought to create a set of what we would today call best practices to which affiliate members—Catholic high schools and colleges—would adhere.

Shields’s own protégé, Rev. George Johnson (1889-1944), picked up the Catholic education baton from Shields when he died in 1921. Johnson became a professor in the Department of Education in 1921, and would also head the Department of Education of the National Catholic Welfare Conference in 1928, and the following year would be elected the Executive Secretary of the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA). Perhaps the most influential voice in American Catholic education throughout the Great Depression and Second World War, Johnson, like his predecessor, died young, at the age of 55, while delivering an address at Trinity College in 1944. As enrollment in the University grew in this period, so too did enrollment in education courses. From 1924 to 1930, University enrollment went from 680 students to 1,138; enrollment in education courses rose from 99 to 360 in that same period.

The Department of Education faculty, ca. 1964. Image: Special Collections, University Photographs, The Catholic University of America.


Growth and general academic reorganization spurred talk of turning the Department into a School. The idea was that education was a professional field meriting its own school, that becoming a school would facilitate accreditation processes, and that the Department not only prepared students for research and teaching, but prepared students for other aspects of education, such as administration and counseling.

In 1964, University Rector William McDonald asked the Board of Trustees to change the Department of Education to a School of Education, citing its unique needs as an expanding professional school. The Board unanimously approved the request.

The School of Education saw several Deans. Two, Dean Mary Sarah Fasenmyer (Dean, 1970-1973) and Dean Raymond Steimel (1973-1984) were particularly significant during the School of Education period. Fasenmyer served in several capacities at the University: she served as Director of the Curriculum Development Center, Assistant Professor in the School of Education, and Dean in the School of Education, all at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She oversaw the institution of several new programs as a result of studies of the School, including the institution of several specific concentrations of study leading to the M.A. and doctoral degrees, and the offering of both the Ph.D. and the Ed.D. degrees. Additionally, a Council on Teacher Education was established at the University to oversee teacher preparation programs there.

Dean Raymond Steimel managed a period of faculty expansion and stability. Undergraduate education, in particular, was emphasized, the Ed.D. program was eliminated, and the M.A. programs were reorganized. Steimel also oversaw the establishment of two endowed chairs as Dean: the International Federation of Catholic Alumnae established a chair in honor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and the Euphemia Lofton Haynes Chair. The latter came as a result of a bequest of Lofton Haynes, the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics in the U.S. (at The Catholic University of America), and a renowned educator in Washington, D.C.

Dr. John Convey, hired by Dean Raymond Steimel in 1974, served as professor in the Elizabeth Seton Endowed Chair from 1990-2018, University Provost from 1997-2007, and Department Chair from 1994-1997, and 2016-2017. Now Professor Emeritus, Convey recently wrote a history of the Department of Education.  Image: Special Collections, University Photographs, The Catholic University of America.

In 1984, William Byron, S.J., the President of the University from 1982-1992, released a memo to the Academic Senate titled “On Choosing Between and Among the Children.” Here, he ranked the eleven schools of the University with the aim of reorganizing their structure to fit with the mission of the University. Byron proposed that the School of Education become a department within the School of Arts and Sciences, arguing that a department would better integrate the priorities of the graduate and undergraduate programs, as well as connect the program with other disciplines at the University. In December, 1984, the School of Education voted in favor of a proposal to become a Department of Education within the School of Arts and Sciences. In early 1985, the Board of Trustees approved the department’s proposal. Ensuing changes had the effect of intermingling the teaching of graduate and undergraduate students in a way that made faculty more attentive to both groups. An Education Studies program was also instituted to train students who sought to teach in non-school settings, such as libraries, government organizations, and foundations.

The late 1980s through the twenty-first century saw the emphasis on grant-funded research projects emphasizing best practices in teacher education. The Council on Teacher Education evolved to represent and reflect the changing structure of the Department. Curricular and programmatic changes were made to reflect a renewed emphasis on teacher education, including the reintroduction of programs in Special Education and Early Childhood Education.

A 2007 image of the faculty and staff of the Department of Education, The Catholic University of America. Bottom, Left to Right: Tsadale Mammo, Rona Frederick, Joy Banks, Kathleen Perencevich, Mona Shevlin, Rick Yekovich, Sarah Pickert, Joan Thompson. Next Two Levels: Diyu Chen, Carole Brown, John Convey, Thomas Long, Mimi Schuttloffel, Jennifer Kusnierczyk, Agnes Cave, Elsie Neely, Leonard DeFiore. Image: Special Collections, University Photographs, The Catholic University of America.

In many ways the history of the Department of Education reflects national trends, both in Catholic education in the United States, and in Catholic Colleges themselves. The Department expanded and centralized in the first half of the twentieth century, as did the Catholic school system in general during this time period. Catholic colleges, The Catholic University of America among them, played a key role in training both religious and lay teachers and administration for this Catholic school boom era. The contraction in enrollments in the Catholic school system has resulted in a streamlining of the Department of Education.

For much more on the history of The Catholic University of America’s Department of Education, see our online exhibit.


The main source for this post and the online exhibit is: John J. Convey’s “The Catholic University Department of Education, 1908-2021 (Unpublished manuscript, 2021). Available in Special Collections, Archives, The Catholic University of America.

For general trends in U.S. Catholic education, see: James T. Carroll, “Catholic Education,” The Cambridge Companion to American Catholicism, Margaret M. McGuiness and Thomas F. Rzeznik, eds (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021).

The Archivist’s Nook: Special Collections Resources on the History of Mexico

Scattered throughout Catholic University’s Special Collections are a range of resources related to the history of Mexico. We are happy to offer a new Library Guide to those materials. Here are a few of the highlights:

The National Council of Catholic Women announce their protest of the treatment of Catholics in Mexico in this 1920s letter from the NCWC/USCCB Office of the General Secretary’s “Mexican Files.”

The National Catholic Welfare Conference, forerunner of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, became involved in U.S.-Mexican affairs just after its founding in the early 1920s. Mexico-related records can be found throughout this enormous collection, partly due to the migration of Mexican Catholics into the U.S. at the time, but also because the bishops were concerned with the unstable political conditions in that country leading to persecution of Catholics in the 1920s. The archives, which holds the NCWC/USCCB records, contains a series of records known as the “Mexican Files,” Subseries 1.4, of the NCWC/USCCB Office of the General Secretary, which document the precarious position of the church in Mexico and attempts by U.S. Catholic authorities to stabilize such conditions. The Office of the General Secretary files also contain various materials throughout related to Mexican relations and migration which one can find by doing a simple search of the finding aid.

Established in 1920, the NCWC Press Department provided the Catholic press, radio, and eventually, television in the United States and other countries with news, editorial, feature, and picture services gathered and prepared by professional journalists and released under the names NCWC News Service and Noticias Catolicas (in Spanish and Portuguese for Latin America). Both services were designated by the abbreviation (NC) and the former later known as the Catholic New Service (CNS). Administrative files include correspondence, general subscriber files, obituary files for prominent Catholics, and miscellaneous publications and press releases. The NCWC/CNS finding aid can be found here.

La Esperanza. La Esperanza, Los Angeles, 11/3/2022, from The Catholic News Archive

Hosted by the  Catholic Research Resources Alliance the from The Catholic News Archive contains more than 30,000 issues of digitized Catholic newspapers comprising over 600,000 pages of news.

Included are digital copies of the Catholic News Service Press releases, La Esperanza of Los Angeles (ca. 1929-1954), The Monitor of San Francisco, and several other publications publishing Mexico-related articles.

Agustín Iturbide y Green (1863-1925), grandson of Emperor Agustín Iturbide I (1783-1824), was born in Mexico City during the French occupation of the country in 1863. Desiring a Mexican heir, Emperor Maximilian I, an Austrian by birth, arranged to adopt the younger Iturbide, then two years old, in 1865. Following the collapse of Maximilian’s regime in 1867, young Agustín was reunited with his birth parents in Havana, and resided with his mother in the United States until 1875 before leaving to study in Brussels. Agustín remained in Europe for many years before returning once again to attend graduate school in Washington, D.C. He was awarded a master’s degree in Linguistics from Georgetown University in 1884.

Iturbide returned to Mexico in 1887 to enter the Military Academy in Chapultepec. Although he had aspirations for a storied military career, his criticisms of the Porfirio Díaz regime in both a New York newspaper and in personal correspondence resulted in his being court-martialed in 1890. Convicted of insubordination, he was sentenced to one year in prison and was subsequently exiled.

An undated photo of Agustín de Iturbide y Green, image taken by a student at Georgetown University.

Financially ruined and grieving for his mother, who passed away during attempts to salvage the family fortune, Iturbide moved to Rosedale to teach Spanish and French at Georgetown University. It was there, that he met Louise Kearney, who would become his wife in 1915. The Kearneys were a prominent Washington family whose ancestors had emigrated from Ireland in the late 1700s.

Iturbide continued to teach until his death from tuberculosis in 1925. Louise Kearney lived the rest of her life in a small P Street apartment and became friends with Catholic University procurator Msgr. James Magner, to whom she entrusted this collection in 1957.

This collection contains original documents from the Iturbide family from Emperor Agustin Iturbide I’s reign until the death of his grandson, Agustín Iturbide y Green, including correspondence, Mexican governmental documents, military medals and coins, newspapers, magazines, and portraits. The Kearney section contains correspondence and portraits from Louise Kearney, Iturbide’s wife from 1915 until his death.

Note that this collection is digitized and all of the links to the digitized documents are in the finding aid.

A link to the Iturbide-Kearney papers’ finding aid can be found here.

The  National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW) was established in 1920 as an initiative of the Lay Organizations Department of the NCWC. One to three women represented each of the 114 dioceses of the time.  As the first federation of Catholic women’s organizations, the NCCW was able to provide a unified voice for the thousands of independent Catholic women’s organizations that existed in the United States, to offer resources for united actions, to ensure official Catholic representation in national movements, and to stimulate the local efforts of the women’s organizations.

The NCCW records span 1917-2000 and consist of administrative records and minutes, correspondence, national and international project notes, publications, photographs, and scrapbooks. While there are over 200 boxes of records in this collection, one can do a search for Mexico-related materials; specifically, series 7 (International Organization Affiliations, 1919-1984), boxes 111-142 (especially 115-116) contain materials related to the NCCW’s involvement with international organizations. A link to the NCCW finding aid can be found here.

A selected list of texts from our Rare Books collection related to the history of Mexico can be found here.

A full list of Mexico-related resources from Special Collections can be found in this Mexico-related Library Guide.

The Archivist’s Nook: Curation, Campus, and the Classroom

Special Collections has shared the University’s treasures with many classes from many schools and departments over the years: History, Library Science, Religious Studies, Anthropology, and Education among them. While we often use our museum collection materials for instructional purposes, we were privileged with our first visit from a class in the Department of Art, Rome School of Music, Drama and Art just this semester.

Professor Tiffany Hunt brought students from her course, ART 272: The Cosmopolitan Renaissance, to Special Collections this month to explore pieces dating from the 1400-1600 period. Because many of the University’s works of art hang in the classrooms, offices, and corridors of the school, this archival visit was actually a campus tour. Professor Hunt’s goal was to have students embark “on an object-based art history research project that begins with a deep engagement, slow looking, and critical analysis of 11 art objects from the early modern period (1300-1600).”

Professor Tiffany Hunt uses the University’s art collection to instruct ART 272 students in the Archives reading room in Aquinas Hall, February, 2022.

The University’s museum collection, from which the pieces were drawn, is comprised of more than 5,000 objects, with the first donations of museum items dating to before the school  opened in 1889. Up until 1905 the collection was displayed in Caldwell Hall. Starting in 1905 and continuing until 1976 parts of the collection were either displayed in McMahon Hall or Mullen Library, or were put into storage. In 1976 the university museum collection was put under the management of the archives and the collection was housed in Curley Hall vault, with items being used in campus exhibition or loaned to campus offices to be displayed and enjoyed as office decoration. The students in ART 272 focused on objects currently housed in Special Collections repositories, the archives’ reading room, Curley Hall, Salve Regina Hall, and Nugent Hall.


Catherine Coyle, one of ART 272’s students, notes that “the pieces I saw in the collection helped to illustrate the theme of connectivity of objects and styles that we have been discussing in the course.” Underscoring the “cosmopolitan” aspect of the course, Coyle notes that “all of the objects in the collection are connected to the era of the Renaissance in Italy, but they also visualize the movement of influences across the Mediterranean and even the East. The experience of having the ability to see these connections firsthand through the objects gave me the opportunity to fully see how expansive the Renaissance was.”

Some are surprised at the beauty and abundance of  furniture present in the Museum collection. This piece, which students examined as part of the Cosmopolitan Renaissance class, is a Spanish antique wood cabinet dated ca. 1550-1600.


Some students were surprised at the scope of the objects in the University’s collections. Annaliese Haman observed that “the furniture pieces surprised me. I knew that furniture had much to say about the time it was created as well as the materials available, but after the brief discussion and visit to the Archives, I was more intrigued by furniture and its uses for research and for its uses during the Renaissance.”

Students examine a terra cotta Madonna and child by Antonio Rosselino ca. 1450-70. The piece is located in Curley Hall.


Haman chose a painting of the Madonna and Child hanging in Salve Regina Hall for her deep analysis. Why that particular painting? I asked her. “it was close to my dorm,” she wrote,”and I wanted to research a painting. Because this piece is located in Salve Regina, I can go and view it on a frequent basis which was wonderful to be able to do. After I learned St. Genesius was pictured in the piece, I got very excited, as I have a special devotion to him.”




In fact, Haman recounts some of the painting’s colorful history, including a connection to the psychic, astrologer, and Washington, D.C. resident, Jeanne Dixon (1904-1997). You can read more about the ART 272 students’ adventures with their various works on Professor Hunt’s course website here: Additionally, we will publish selected works by the students here at The Archivist’s Nook in the coming weeks.

ART 272 student Annaliese Haman chose to examine this Madonna and child painting hanging in Salve Regina Hall, for which she found a rich and interesting history.


  1. Professor Tiffany Hunt, The Cosmopolitan Renaissance website:
  2. Email communications between Maria Mazzenga, Catherine Coyle (March 14, 2022), and Annaliese Haman (April 8, 2022).



The Archivist’s Nook: The Not So Small World of Terence V. Powderly


In January, 2000, the U.S. Department of Labor held a ceremony in Washington, D.C. to honor Terence Vincent Powderly (1849-1924), the 1999 Labor Hall of Fame inductee. He joined fellow Hall-of-Famers such as rival Samuel Gompers, friend Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, and fellow Pennsylvanian and labor leader Philip Murray. The Labor Department Report announcing the honor referred to Powderly as a “little known leader,” then went on to delineate his accomplishments. Powderly himself might have been a little offended at the reference to his obscurity, and not without cause. He was an extremely popular leader in his time. People wrote celebratory songs and poems about him and hung his portrait in their homes. He was often greeted with cheers and celebration in his extensive travels promoting the Knights. William Mullen, a Knights leader and organizer in Richmond, Virginia, named his son Terence Powderly Mullen when the boy was born in 1885. With many, many friends in the labor movement, and as a committed leader who cared about individuals ruthlessly exploited by corporate power, Powderly can be understood as a representative of the collective will of late-nineteenth century labor. We have selected objects from his voluminous collection, housed at the University’s Archives, for a display open to the public in the Archives’ Reading Room on the centenary of the penning of his autobiography, The Path I Trod.

Terence Vincent Powderly, 1849-1924, in an undated photo from the Terence Vincent Powderly Collection.

Powderly’s massive popularity in the late nineteenth century was not necessarily foretold by his humble beginnings, though his personal story lent to his credibility among labor’s rank and file. He himself thought his story was worth telling enough to labor over it. Quoting Benvenuto Cellini that one who had “done anything of excellence” ought to “describe their life with their own hand,” (The Path I Trod, 3) Powderly set out to describe what he saw as the major events of his life: his youth in Pennsylvania’s coal country, early interest in labor unionization, years as the Mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania, involvement in American politics, and civil service as U.S. Commissioner General of Immigration.

Young Terence’s parents came to the United States from Ireland in 1827 for the same reason thousands of other Irish did: to seek the opportunity to work and raise a family outside of the oppressive conditions of British-ruled Ireland. Terence was born in what would become Carbondale, Pennsylvania, on January 22, 1849. Anthracite coal had just been found in the area, heralding the industrial growth of the Scranton region as a coal- and iron-mining center. The rail industry, a fascination for Powderly as well as a source of early employment, developed concomitantly in the area during his youth.

Powderly describes his childhood home as cold and drafty, with “no lathes, no plaster, and when the wind blew the house would rock as well as the cradle.”(8) The eleventh of twelve children, young Terence served as “the coal-breaker of the family at a time when coal was delivered “in lumps just as it came from the mine, few of them smaller than one’s head.” (14) He also helped his mother maintain the house, cleaning, cooking, and churning butter, according to his account, as a boy. At thirteen, Terence went to work as a switch operator for the railroad, eventually apprenticing as a machinist with James Dickson at age 17.

Terence Powderly’s nameplate, gavel and eyeglasses (with case).

Working conditions in the age of burgeoning industry caused many workers to join labor unions, and Powderly was one of them—he joined the local Scranton unit of the Machinists and Blacksmiths International Union in 1871, soon becoming its secretary, then president. Shortly after marrying Hannah Dever in 1872, he was fired from his job as a mechanic for his union work and “walked the [railroad] ties” into upstate New York and Canada looking for work. (26)

Rather than back away from his labor activism, however, Powderly leaned into it further. He gave speeches on the importance of unionization. He wrote articles for trade journals and newspapers. He also studied and practiced law, which certainly strengthened his mediation skills (and helped pay the bills). In 1874 he was elected a union delegate for several districts in Pennsylvania. Unknown to Powderly, the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor was founded by Uriah Stephens and a group of tailors in Philadelphia in 1869. “While the Knights of Labor were secretly working their way to light and a world’s recognition,” he notes, “I had never heard of that order.” (42) The order maintained secrecy to protect its members from employer retaliation.

Later that year, however, Powderly attended an anti-monopoly convention in Philadelphia and was invited to join the Knights, though he wasn’t initiated until September 1876. After that, “I knew no waking hour that I did not devote, in whole or part, to the upbuilding of the Order.”(45) Powderly’s work resulted in his being elevated to the organization’s General Master Workman (the union’s highest office) in 1879.

The Knights’ approach to generating change was both local and national. Between 1869 and 1896 the order found its way into every state, comprising 15,000 Local Assemblies with over 700,000 members by 1886. The Knights found community, solace, and valuable information in their local meetings throughout the country. Local Knights organized and sponsored lectures and study clubs that were aimed at educating workers in economic principles. Women and Black Americans also had their own units, though the order specifically discriminated against Chinese laborers.

The Knights, however, declined in power by the late 1880s. A strike they led in 1886, the Great Southwest railroad strike, was unsuccessful, causing a decline in membership. The Knights suffered another blow that same year when they were associated with the tragic Haymarket Affair, a bombing in Chicago that took place during a worker’s rally in the city’s Haymarket Square. Finally, the founding of the American Federation of Labor by Samuel Gompers in 1886, drew skilled workers into its ranks, and away from the Knights. By 1889 Knights of Labor membership had dwindled to 120,000. Powderly resigned as Master in 1893.

Powderly made enduring friendships with important leaders in the labor movement. He was especially close to Mary ‘Mother’ Harris Jones (ca. 1836-1930), pictured above, the Irish-born rabble rouser and ‘Miner’s Angel’ who was an active participant in the front lines of the American labor movement for nearly sixty years. Another labor comrade of Powderly’s was John B. White (1870-1934), right, an Illinois-born coal miner and progressive president of the United Mine Workers of America from 1911 to 1917.

Powderly was elected Mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania on the Greenback-Labor Party ticket for three two-year terms from 1878-1884. That he was still under 30 years old when first elected is a testament to his political skill. Though known primarily as a labor leader, politics came with the territory, especially in the politically and economically tumultuous years of the second industrial revolution. After he left his leadership position with the Knights of Labor in 1893, he became more involved in local, and eventually, national politics. He first met William McKinley in 1881 during a coal miners’ dispute in Ohio. McKinley, a lawyer, took up the case for miners accused of unlawful assembly without payment, as the miners couldn’t pay for counsel. This earned McKinley Powderly’s lasting admiration, and the two became good friends. McKinley was a Congressman from Ohio at the time, but would serve as U.S. President from 1897 until his assassination in 1901. Powderly describes him as “a man who had a heart that felt for others’ woes; he was unpretentious, unassuming, and kind.” (296) The Powderly papers contain numerous tokens of Powderly’s support and affection for McKinley. McKinley, for his part, appointed Powderly Commissioner General of Immigration in 1897.

Powderly was a big fan of President William McKinley–this button is one of the many McKinley-related objects in the collection.

Ellis Island was the main port of entry during Powderly’s term as Commissioner. Arriving at the immigration station, however, he saw “that all was not well… ill treatment of arriving aliens, impositions practiced on steamship companies, and discourtesy to those who called their meet their friends on landing were frequent.” (299) Powderly created a commission to investigate conditions at Ellis Island that resulted in charges of corruption and nearly a dozen firings. Powderly himself lost his position when McKinley was assassinated in 1901, though he was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt Special Immigration Inspector in 1906. This position entailed travel to Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, and Austria-Hungary to study the causes of immigration. An avid amateur photographer, Powderly took copious photos as he traveled, some of which are digitized and can be viewed here.

Powderly’s final position, 1921-1924, was as Commissioner of Conciliation of the U.S. Labor Department under James J. Davis (1873-1947), who served as U.S. Secretary of Labor, 1921-1930, under Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. Powderly died in Washington, D.C., on June 24, 1924.

The exhibit on Terence Powderly featuring the objects pictured here, along with many others from the collection can be viewed by the public in the Archives’ Reading Room in 101 Aquinas Hall.


References: Terence Powderly, The Path I Trod (New York: Columbia University Press, 1940)




The Archivist’s Nook: The Dress at the End of the Rainbow

If you were around during the Golden Age of Hollywood, you would have heard of Mercedes McCambridge. She had an Oscar winning role as Best Supporting Actress in the 1949 movie All the King’s Men. She was nominated for the same award in the 1956 film Giant. If you haven’t seen either of those classics or are more into horror, you might have heard her voice the demon Pazuzu in the 1973 film classic, The Exorcist. Indeed, she was renowned for her voice. Orson Welles, who, incidentally, addressed Catholic University’s first class of drama students in 1939, called her “the world’s greatest living radio actress.”

A Mercedes McCambridge publicity photo from the 1949 film All the King’s Men. (Photo: AP Wirephoto.)










McCambridge was also an artist-in-residence here at Catholic University from 1972-1973, lured, no doubt, by the University’s stellar drama program and its illustrious head, Father Gilbert Hartke (1907-1986). McCambridge once commented on Father Hartke’s sartorial tastes, which extended well beyond the Dominican robes of his order to include a silk Nehru jacket, a six foot long aviator scarf, a Russian fur hat and light blue canvas sneakers, among many other articles of clothing.

Most of these articles were gifts given to him by those who knew he loved clothing and costumes. And were it not for his extravagant tastes, we perhaps might not today have an absolutely precious piece of cinematic history: one of the dresses Judy Garland wore on the set of The Wizard of Oz. Articles in The Tower and The Washington Post allude to it, and rumors have swirled for years that Hartke had the dress, but it wasn’t until recently that Matt Ripa, Lecturer and Operations Coordinator at the Drama Department rediscovered it. I asked Mr. Ripa how he found the dress, and he responded that he too, “had heard rumors that Father Hartke was gifted Dorothy’s dress and that it was located somewhere in the building.” But “I could never get confirmation on exactly where it was located.” He explains:

I had looked in our archives, storage closets, etc. to no avail. I assumed it was a tall tale (of which many exist for Father Hartke). Our building is in the process of renovations and upgrades, so I was cleaning out my office to prepare. I noticed on top of the faculty mailboxes a trashbag and asked my co-worker to hand it to me. On the trashbag was a note for our former chair stating that he had found ‘this’ in his office and that he must have moved it when he moved out of the chair’s office… I was curious what was inside and opened the trashbag and inside was a shoebox and inside the shoe box was the dress!! I couldn’t believe it. My co-worker and I quickly grabbed some gloves and looked at the dress and took some pictures before putting it back in the box and heading over to the archives. I called one of our faculty members and former chair, who always told me the dress existed and that it was in the building to let her know that I had found it. Needless to say, I have found many interesting things in the Hartke during my time at CUA, but I think this one takes the cake.

McCambridge gave Father Gilbert Hartke one of the dresses Judy Garland wore as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939) when she was an artist in residence in the early 1970s. Though rumors of the dress have swirled for decades, the dress was only recently located by Matthew Ripa in the Drama Department. Father Hartke is pictured here with student Carol Pearson holding the dress, ca. 1975-76. There are several photos of Hartke holding the dress in the University’s Special Collections. (Photo: Special Collections, The Catholic University of America)

As archivists, we were obliged to work on gaining additional documentation for this popular culture national treasure. Objects such as this one might be forged and passed off as authentic because of their cultural and monetary value. So how do we know the dress is the real thing? We do not yet know how Mercedes McCambridge got the dress, though we do know she was a Hollywood contemporary of Judy Garland’s and that they were supposedly friends. McCambridge was friends with many luminaries in the film and radio industry. Garland had died by the time the dress went from McCambridge to Father Hartke. Moreover, we have several photos of Father Hartke holding the dress, and the abovementioned articles from The Tower and The Washington Post referencing it. So the circumstantial evidence is strong.

Dorothy’s Wizard of Oz dress in June, 2021. Judy’s name is written by hand on the inside of the dress, as the second image shows. (Photos by Shane MacDonald and Maria Mazzenga)


Nonetheless, we reached out to experts in cultural memorabilia at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The Museum has several artifacts from the Wizard of Oz set, including a famous pair of Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers. Curator with the Division of Cultural and Community Life, Ryan Lintelman, an expert in the Museum’s Oz memorabilia, offered a wealth of information he’s gathered on the history of the film’s Dorothy dresses. There were several of them, though it appears that five, excluding the University’s dress, have been verified as probably authentic. All of the dresses have certain verifiable characteristics: a “secret pocket” on the right side of the pinafore skirt for Dorothy’s handkerchief, “Judy Garland” written by hand in a script specific to a single person who labeled all of the extant dresses in the same hand, for example. Apparently, the thin material of the blouse was prone to tearing when Garland took it off after filming, and a seamstress often repaired it before she donned it for the next shoot. The Hartke dress has all of these characteristics, including blouse tears where the pinafore straps sat on the shoulders.

Smithsonian staff members, from left, Dawn Wallace, Sunae Park Evans, and Ryan Lintelman examine the dress, June 2021. (Photo by Maria Mazzenga)



Lintelman, along with his colleagues at the Museum, Dawn Wallace, Objects Conservator, and Sunae Park Evans, Senior Costume Conservator, paid us a visit to view the dress. Employees at the Museum are not authorized to authenticate objects like this one, but they suggested that the dress was consistent with the other objects from the film, and that the evidence around the dress was strong.

Dorothy’s Wizard of Oz dress, once the province of myth, is now a real object in the University’s Special Collections. We can now preserve it in proper storage in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment. By the way, if any of you readers have your own story connected to this dress, drop us a line!

A scene that needs no explaining… (Photo: Silver Screen/Getty)







Mary Jo Santo Pietro, Father Hartke: His Life and Legacy (Washington, D.C. The Catholic University of America Press, 2002), 201.

“Father Hartke: Kudos from the President, A Look At the Past,” The Washington Post, May 17, 1975, B1. The article alludes to “the original gingham dress that Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz,” hanging in his closet.

McCambridge talks about her relationships with various Hollywood figures throughout her autobiography, and specifically mentions her residency at Catholic University in the early 1970s in her autobiography, The Quality of Mercy (New York: Times Books, 1981), see pages 107, 189 for mention of her year as artist-in-residence. See also, Richard Coe,  “Backstage And Back In Town,” The Washington Post, September 9, 1972, C9.


The Archivist’s Nook: African American History-Related Collections

In his landmark 1990 scholarly work, The History of Black Catholics in the United States, Cyprian Davis presents a deeply researched history of African American Catholics in the United States. He proved that, while Black Catholics seemed invisible across U.S. Catholic history, in fact, the American Church has never been exclusively a white and European one. In fact, as he writes, “the African presence has influenced the Catholic church in every period of its history.” He concludes that for “[t]oo long have black Catholics been anonymous. It is clear they can be identified, that their presence has made an impact, and that their contributions have made Catholicism a unique and stronger body.”[1] In that spirit, we offer an overview of some of our richest materials related to the Black Catholic experience in the United States, including the papers of Father Cyprian Davis himself.

From left: Rothell Price; Bishop James Lyke, O.F.M, Auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland; Father Cyprian Davis, O.S.B., and Leo Hodges, at a talk given by Bishop Lyke on the implementation of the Bishops’ Pastoral on racism, February, 1984. From the Davis Papers.

In 2015, Special Collections acquired the papers of Father Cyprian Davis. Davis, born Clarence John Davis (1930-2015) in Washington, D.C., was a historian and archivist. A convert to Catholicism in his teenage years, Davis expressed an early interest in the priesthood. He joined the seminary of St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana, where he became a novice in 1950, and took the monastic name Cyprian in 1951. Ordained a priest on May 3, 1956, Davis became the first African American to join the monastic community of St. Meinrad.

He began his academic career in 1948, studying at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. where he received a Licentiate of Sacred Theology in 1957. Davis then studied church history abroad at The Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, where he obtained a licentiate in 1963. He taught church history at St. Meinrad before returning to Louvain for his doctorate degree in 1977. Father Davis authored and co-authored several pioneering monographs, including Christ’s image in Black: The Black Catholic community before the Civil War and The History of Black Catholics in the United States. Davis’s papers include many unpublished manuscripts on Black history and Black Catholic history, as well as correspondence, academic papers, printed material, audiovisual records, ephemera, and a range of awards and honors. A finding aid for the Cyprian Davis papers can be found here.

For insights into how white Catholics sought to promote interracial activities within the Catholic Church in the first half of the twentieth century, researchers can consult the records of the Catholic Interracial Council of New York (CICNY). Father John LaFarge, S.J., founded the CICNY in 1934 to promote mutual understanding and social justice among Blacks and whites. The CICNY disseminated information and held meetings and conferences on Catholic teaching and race. Through the 1940s, the CICNY addressed issues such as the Scottsboro Boys’ case, lynching, communism, and efforts to open the defense industry to Black workers. They also regularly honored Catholic civil rights activists with a number of annual awards and celebrations, including the annual John A. Hoey Interracial Justice Award. The idea of interracial councils led to their formation in Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. By 1954, 24 Catholic Interracial Councils had been created.

An undated photo of a gathering of members of the CICNY from the CICNY Records.

The CICNY continued well into the 1990s, but had declined markedly in activity and importance by the late 1970s. The Interracial Review, of full set of which can be found in the voluminous CICNY Records, one of its more important undertakings since its founding, ceased publication in 1966, although it was revived in a much less ambitious format in the 1970s. Several civil rights leaders, including A. Philip Randolph and Roy Wilkins, contributed to the journal. A finding aid for the CICNY can be found here.

Washington, D.C.- Related Collections

The Haynes-Lofton Family Papers are comprised of the personal papers of Catholic University of America alumna Euphemia Lofton Haynes, her husband Harold Appo Haynes, and their families. A native Washingtonian, Euphemia Lofton Haynes (1890-1980) received a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Smith College in 1914, a Master’s in Education from the University of Chicago in 1930, and a Doctorate in Mathematics from Catholic University in 1943, making her the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Mathematics in the United States. She taught in the public schools of Washington, D.C. for 47 years and was the first woman to chair the D.C. School Board. She figured prominently in the integration of both the D.C. public schools and the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women. The papers consist of correspondence, financial records, publications, speeches, reports, newspaper clippings, and photographs, and provide a record of her family, professional, and social life, including her involvement in education, civic affairs, real estate, and business matters in Washington. A finding aid for the Haynes-Lofton family papers can be found here. 

Educator and activist Paul Philips Cooke (1917-2010), a member of Washington D.C.’s Sacred Heart parish, lived most of his long life in the District. After earning a Master’s in English Literature from The Catholic University of America in 1942, and a Doctorate in Education from Columbia University in 1947, Cooke taught and served as president of the District of Columbia Teachers College until 1974.  He was an active member of the Catholic Interracial Council of the District of Columbia (CIC DC) for over 50 years. The collection includes correspondence, clippings, reports, meeting minutes, photos, pamphlets, and publications. A finding aid for the Paul Philips Cooke papers can be found here.

An image of the front page of the manuscript for Elliot Liebow’s 1967 book “Tally’s Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men,” from the Liebow Papers.

For more on African American life in Washington, D.C. in the second half of the twentieth century, researchers may also consult the Elliot Liebow Papers. Liebow (1925–1994) was an American anthropologist, best known for his 1967 book Tally’s Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men, a study of Black men in urban Washington, D.C. The book, based on his 1966 Catholic University of America Department of Anthropology doctoral dissertation “Behavior and Values of Streetcorner Negro Men” sold nearly a million copies, and though dated today in its methodology, was influential in its time. Beginning in 1990, he held the Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle Professorship at the National Catholic School for Social Service of the Catholic University of America. He died in 1994. Series 3 of the Liebow papers contains research material related to Tally’s Corner. Although some of the research material is subject to a 60-year restriction in order to protect the identities of the case study participants, the open material includes the original manuscript of Tally’s Corner, correspondence about the book, book reviews, and publicity material (e.g., ads and ephemera). A finding aid for the Liebow papers is currently underway and should be completed by early 2021. In the meantime, please contact the archives staff directly at or 202-319-5065 for more information. 

Education Resource Websites

The Thomas Wyatt Turner and The Federated Colored Catholics website is one of our most well-used educational resources. The site revolves around Turner’s struggle to promote racial equality in the U.S. Catholic Church. In that struggle, we see how even people of good faith have often disagreed over the best strategies for winning the battle. Some have argued that African-Americans or other racial minorities have needed the chance to unite, gain power, and win respect from white majorities. Others have contended that convincing white, and indeed all Americans, to be colorblind—to not “see” race—has been the best plan. Such disagreements emerged among American Catholics in the 1920s and 1930s in debates between Dr. Thomas Wyatt Turner, an African-American layman, and Father John LaFarge, a white Jesuit and long time civil rights advocate. The Thomas Wyatt Turner and the Federated Colored Catholics website can be found here.

The Catholic Church, Bishops and Race in the Mid-Twentieth Century website features resources and documents related to the U.S. Catholic Bishops in the mid-twentieth century. While battles were waged against racist institutions in America in the decades prior, it was the 1940s–1960s that set the tone for the momentous changes in the history of African Americans. Often termed the “Second American Revolution,” the Civil Rights Movement of those decades sought the end of segregation across a wide swath of American society, including schools and other public organizations. The Catholic Church in the U.S. saw the struggle for equality within its own walls, and many church leaders were determined to not only free their institutions from segregation, but to work for its demise in the general population as well. While recognition of the Church’s work in civil rights has paled in comparison to the luminaries of the movement, several individuals and organizations made a mark nonetheless, overcoming resistance at times from within their own parishes and institutions. The website can be found here. 

In the 1930s and 1940s, comic books were one of the most popular forms of entertainment among the nation’s youth, combining as they did narratives, graphics, and low prices. Concerned over the possibility of the effects of such entertainment on the moral character of young people, the Commission on American Citizenship at The Catholic University of America worked with George A. Pflaum of Dayton, Ohio, to publishing a bi-monthly comic book, the Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact for distribution in Catholic Parochial Schools starting in 1946. The Treasure Chest was intended as a remedy to the sensationalism of traditional comics: it contained educational features, narrated the lives of saints, and presented adventure stories featuring realistic characters with what were considered wholesome values, like patriotism, equality, faith, and anti-communism.

By the early 1960s, the Treasure Chest was at the height of its popularity. In 1964, Joe Sinnott, the illustrator of Marvel Comics’ “The Fantastic Four,” teamed up with writer Berry Reece to produce a story depicting a U.S. presidential election. It was set in the future: the presidential election was supposedly that of 1976, the year of the nation’s bicentennial. “Pettigrew for President” lasted for 10 issues, following the campaign trail of the fictional Tim Pettigrew from the announcement of his candidacy through the national convention of his party. The candidate’s face was carefully hidden in every panel, until the final page of the final issue of the story, when Pettigrew is finally revealed: the first Black candidate for president of the United States! This site reproduces the entire “Pettigrew for President” series in a digital format. It places this unique comic book story in the context of the 1960s civil rights movement, and provides background information on the creators of the series. The website can be found here.

For more on these materials and more see our newly-created LibGuide on African American History-Related Collections.



[1] Cyprian Davis, The History of Black Catholics in the United States (New York: Crossroad, 1990), 259.


The Archivist’s Nook: Father John LaFarge, Jr. and The Catholic Interracial Council of New York

Father John LaFarge, Jr., S.J., a founder of the Catholic Interracial Council of New York, was one of Catholic America’s leading intellects during the first half of the twentieth century. He wrote and edited for the Jesuit weekly, America, for 37 years, wrote and published hundreds of articles and eleven books, co-wrote an encyclical, Humani generis unitas at the request of Pope Pius XI, and worked relentlessly, if not always successfully, to improve the circumstances of African Americans within the Catholic Church.

A 1958 gathering of the Catholic Interracial Council of New York, with Father LaFarge, second from left, Roy Wilkins, Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people 1955-1977, third from left, and George Hunton, on Wilkens’ left.

Though LaFarge titled his 1954 autobiography after the Jesuit Rules, The Manner is Ordinary, his early life was anything but average. Born in 1880 in Newport, Rhode Island to the well-known nineteenth century painter John LaFarge, and Margaret Perry LaFarge, a descendant of Benjamin Franklin and Naval Commander Oliver Hazard Perry, LaFarge enjoyed a privileged boyhood. Though he decided to become a priest at 12 years of age, he attended public schools in Newport, and graduated from Harvard University in 1901. He revealed his desire to become a Jesuit just before his ordination at the Seminary at Innsbruck, Austria. During his Jesuit[1] training, he spent time as a prison chaplain on Blackwell’s Island (Now called Roosevelt Island) in New York City. Of his experience there, he wrote, “Innsbruck and Woodstock [Seminary] were schools of knowledge, but Blackwell’s Island was a school of life and death.”

At Blackwell’s Island, he came into contact with large numbers of African American and impoverished people, and was impacted deeply enough by the experience to make civil rights the focus of his life’s work. His assignment to the Jesuit missions in St. Mary’s County in Southern Maryland from 1911-1926 saw his commitment to the African American Catholic population deepen, even as it became fraught with controversy.

Father John LaFarge was initially involved in the operations of the Federated Colored Catholics (FCC), a lay organization founded by Thomas Wyatt Turner. The FCC’s purpose was to promote Black Catholic equality within the church. LaFarge and Turner parted ways over differences in how to run the organization in 1932.

In fact, the African American Catholic community in the United States was small in the early twentieth century, hovering around 200,000 from the late nineteenth century to the early 1930s. Additionally, as historian Cyprian Davis, O.S.B., recounts, that population suffered from a lack of representation by Blacks among bishops, priests, and both male and female religious. Though African Americans sought to enter the priesthood and religious orders, their numbers remained extremely low due to racism within the church. Davis notes that the Black Catholic laity sought to fill the vacuum of leadership within the church, with several Black Catholic lay congresses organized by Daniel Rudd in the late nineteenth century, and the Federated Colored Catholics (FCC) organized by Thomas Wyatt Turner in the twentieth century.[2]

The leadership vacuum, however, would have a profound impact on how white priests like Father LaFarge interacted with the African American Catholics he sought to serve. LaFarge and Turner saw the role of black lay Catholics within the church differently. The FCC was founded in 1924 by Turner and several Black Catholic laymen who sought to address the absence of African-American clergy, the discriminatory practices of the Josephites and Catholic Universities, and the need for greater African-American representation on the boards of various Catholic welfare organizations. Father LaFarge served as an advisor to the group, but in the end they parted ways, as Turner sought educational equality among white and black Catholics within Catholic institutions, accepted lay organizations, and access to the priesthood. LaFarge, while denouncing racism and supporting a black Catholic apostolate, favored emphasis on integration and interracial cooperation.[3]

LaFarge also served as chairman of the executive board for the Cardinal Gibbons Institute, a Catholic school established in southern Maryland in 1924 for African American students. While the school served as an early endeavor to address the educational inequities within the church, LaFarge clashed with the school’s principals, Victor and Constance Daniel, over many of the same issues with which he disagreed with Turner, and the school closed in 1933.

The CICNY inspired the formation of Catholic interracial councils in cities other than New York. Here, members of the Chicago CIC gather in 1958.


Such experiences nonetheless informed LaFarge’s next venture, the founding of the Catholic Interracial Council of New York (CICNY) in 1934. By this time, he was well known as an informed clerical voice on racial issues in the United States, having written many articles on the topic for America, where he had served as assistant editor since 1926. The CICNY functioned under the auspices of the Archdiocese of New York City. Catholic social teachings and American democracy formed its underlying principles. LaFarge served as the CICNY’s chaplain, primary theorist, and guiding light from its founding in 1934 until he retired in 1962. George Hunton, who had been the secretary of the executive council of the Cardinal Gibbons Institute, served as the CICNY’s executive-secretary from its founding in 1934 until 1962. Hunton oversaw the daily business in the CICNY offices and served as the editor for its monthly journal, Interracial Review. Hunton and LaFarge, who for almost 30 years were the prime movers and visible representatives of the CICNY, were joined by Gerard Carroll, long time chair of the CICNY Board of Directors, in making the CICNY a stable and active organization that, despite its regional name and jurisdiction, possessed a national reach and profile. From meetings, intercollegiate conferences, and the publications disseminated through the organization’s Interracial Review, the CICNY influenced progressive thinking on racial among Catholics, especially in the 1930s and 40s, and formed the underpinnings of Catholic approaches to the civil rights movement in the post-World War Two period.

The records of the Catholic Interracial Council of New York are housed at the archives.












[1] David Southern, John LaFarge and the Limits of Catholic Interracialism, 1911-1963 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press), 22-23; Robert Hecht, “John LaFarge,” in Michael Glazier and Thomas J. Shelley, eds., The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1997), 790.

[2] Cyprian Davis, The History of Black Catholics in the United States (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1992. See also, Davis, “African American Catholics,” Glazier and Shelley, Encyclopedia of American Catholic History, 10.

[3] Southern, LaFarge, chapter 5.

The Archivist’s Nook: “A Shepherd in Combat Boots”: The Life of Father Emil Kapaun

Father Emil Kapaun, a military chaplain who died tragically as a prisoner of war in Korea in 1950, was known as “a shepherd in combat boots,” a perplexing phrase at first blush. How does one reconcile the image of the humble shepherd with that of a soldier in combat boots? Father Kapaun, who was declared a Servant of God in 1993 by Pope John Paul II, embodies both the fighter and the shepherd.

A portrait of Father Emil Kapaun, Servant of God. Image used courtesy of the Diocese of Wichita.

Born on April 20, 1916 to German and Bohemian Catholic parents just outside of Pilsen, Kansas, young Emil grew up laboring on the 160-acre farm where his family raised cows, chickens, pigs, and grew wheat and corn. Summers on the Kansas plains were sweltering hot, and winters, bitterly cold. Serving as an altar boy at Pilsen’s St. John Nepomucene Church, young Emil was influenced in his Catholic faith by the church’s pastor, Father John Sklenar. Witnessing the fervency of his faith as a boy, Father Sklenar, along with his parents, Bessie and Enos Kapaun, apparently marked Kapaun as a priest from a young age. Though young Emil began high school and college at Conception Abbey in northwest Missouri when he was 14, he returned home in the summers to work the fields with his father, brother, and members of the Pilsen farming community. His concentration on his studies was intense, and he did so well in his classes that he was known by his schoolmates as “the Brain.”[1]

Father Emil Kapaun attended The Catholic University of America, 1946-1948. He’s pictured here, left, under the sign. Image used courtesy of the Diocese of Wichita.

After completing his training at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri in 1940, Kapaun was ordained a diocesan priest and assigned to the parish in which he’d grown up. But he had a taste for studying military and political affairs in Europe and elsewhere, writing to his brother Eugene about conflict in Europe throughout his time in the seminary. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he witnessed men his own age leaving Pilsen for service and notified his Wichita diocese bishop, Christian Herman Winkelmann, that he felt called to work as a military chaplain. The bishop refused, however, instructing him to remain as Assistant to Father Sklenar at St. John Nepomucene. He followed the events of the war, writing about them in his diary, noting the call for chaplains. He began volunteering part time at the military airfield at nearby Herington, Kansas, and wrote letters to local soldiers. His letters, sermons, and talks to soldiers interwove faith and military service. To one group, his biographer William Maher notes, he preached, “…a Catholic soldier will have his heart set on obedience and faithfulness to duty to service of his country and through that service, to the honor and glory of God.”[2]

Father Kapaun remained at the parish where he had grown up, but he didn’t feel comfortable replacing the priest who had been there more than 50 years, and to whose ways the parishioners had become accustomed. He again petitioned Bishop Winkelmann:

When I was ordained, I was determined to ‘spend myself’ for God. I was determined to do that cheerfully, no matter in what circumstances I would be placed or how hard a life I would be asked to lead. That is why I volunteered for the army and that is why today I would a thousand times rather be working deprived of all ordinary comforts, being a true ‘Father’ to all my people, than by living in a nice comfortable place with with my conscience telling me that I am an obstacle to many.[3]

Bishop Winkelmann finally agreed to allow Father Kapaun to train for a military chaplaincy. Kapaun began his military career in August, 1944 in a class of 145 chaplains. In addition to rigorous physical training involving long marches and calisthenics, Kapaun studied chemical warfare and military sanitation. He enjoyed military life, writing to a friend, “They want to toughen us up in a hurry and I really enjoy it.”[4] Among other things, he learned that he had to promote the religious life of everyone in his unit (no matter the faith tradition), travel from outpost to outpost among scattered troops, and comfort the sick and wounded, all of these instructions he put to use not only during World War Two, but in the Korean War as well. He eventually ended up serving in the China-India-Burma theatre of war operations, also traveling to Bermuda, the Azores, Casablanca, Tripoli, and New Delhi, celebrating mass and ministering to soldiers, refugees, and civilians during this time.[5]

Father Kapaun wrote his master’s thesis on religious schooling in U.S. Secondary Schools, and completed his degree in 1948. This is an image of his thesis’s cover page from the University Archives.

After receiving orders to return to the U.S. in April, 1946, Kapaun conferred with his bishop on furthering his education. He began studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. in 1946. A master’s degree in education from the University would qualify him to teach at both Catholic and public schools in Kansas.

But alas, the military life still called him. He wrote his bishop in 1948 that “I believe I should offer myself for work in the Armed Forces, especially in this crisis.”[6] The crisis to which he referred was the uptick in tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union over land access to West Berlin. The U.S. responded to the Soviet blockage of the city with its “Berlin Airlift” of supplies to the citizens of the former German capital. He reentered military service in 1948, and after a period of service in U.S.-occupied Japan in 1950, he was assigned to duty as chaplain of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment early in the Korean War. As chaplain, he ministered to the dead, heard confessions, and celebrated mass using the hood of a jeep as an altar.

Kapaun’s story has inspired devotion. For the past 11 years, a pilgrimage is held in his hometown of Pilsen, Kansas in late May. This pamphlet held in the University’s pamphlet collection recounts his story.

Kapaun saved 15 soldiers by dragging them to safety during the Battle of Unsan in November, 1950. He was captured by Chinese soldiers on November 2, 1950, and sent to a prison camp, where he died from illness and malnutrition. For his service and bravery, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama in 2013 (the 60th anniversary of the end of Korean War). In 1993, Pope John Paul II made Father Kapaun a servant of God, the first stage on the path to canonization.

View the website devoted to Father Kapaun’s Canonization:



[1] William L. Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, Chaplain Emil Kapaun of the 1st Cavalry Division (Shippensburg, PA: Burd Street Press, 1997), chapter 1,38.

[2] Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, 45-49.

[3] Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, 54.

[4] Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, 54.

[5] Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, 56.

[6] Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, 68.